Category: Travel Blog (page 1 of 3)

The Great Rift

Bureaucrats in possession of a little power are not to be challenged and I really should know better. But in todays digital age, travelling on a valid passport and to be blocked at immigration just because there’s not enough space to rubber stamp defies rationale. This was my first obstacle in getting to fish in Northern Zambia, which by re-routing via Jhb I managed to overcome.

The second was as unbelievable as it was hair raising.

After enjoying our evening meal at Nkamba Bay, perched on the hillside over looking the fishing grounds that lay in wait, I sauntered back to my room. The shrieking of what I thought were Baboon on the roof didn’t alarm me, but the shaking sundeck underfoot and sudden thundering noise confused my slightly dull senses and the sight of giant Warthog baring down on me had my flight mode on autopilot.

 

You don’t expect to find two Tons of charging Hippo, 50ft up on a sundeck overlooking a lake, so understandably I was running before I had processed the information. The screams from everyone at the dinner table fueled my panic stricken stride and I very nearly soiled the trail I was blazing. My salvation lay in a flimsy bush behind which was a light-post. Not wanting my final inglorious moments to be the surprise of carving incisors from behind, I pirouetted around the pole in what the audience later agreed could have me gracing the stage of any sleazy strip club on the continent.

10 meters away two bull Hippos were engaged in a bloody battle for mating rights…totally ignoring my Flashdance impersonation. Had I left the table 30 seconds earlier, my epitaph would been an amusing anecdote. Seeing up far too close and personal the damage that this beast can inflict and the breathtaking speed at which it all happened had my senses on full alert for the rest of our adventure.
Exploring a lake that is millions of years old, forged by tectonic upheaval is challenging, especially when this particular fissure drops to a depth of nearly a mile.You could be forgiven for thinking you were on a tropical island as the sun presents the colour of the water. The clarity is staggering and the sheer depth of vision skews perception.

It happens to be the world’s longest lake and with just under 33 thousand square kilometers of water to fathom, how on earth do you find the fish? But at an average water temperature of 25 celcius, life thrives in kaleidoscope and Lake Tanganyika is home to an incredible 400 species of fish.

It’s as a confusing fishery as you’re likely to find on our planet with it’s inhabitants largely unknown except to ichthyologists…..so we stopped guessing at the identity of the juveniles and stripped deeper water, to tempt the bigger predators.

Jeremy hadn’t even got into rhythm, when the grandaddy of the Lates family decided to test his resolve.

You’re sight fishing at a depth of 6 meters, and wind permitting, seeing every nook and cranny of the underwater shelves…it is guaranteed to ignite idle fly fishing minds. I readily took up the gauntlet and put my ridiculed patterns to the test, which didn’t have to wait too long for some attention from one of the most prolific species in these ancient waters.

The Nkupi is the King of all Chiclids, growing larger than it’s cousin the Peacock Bass and it displays all of the worthy fighting characteristics that it’s renowned for.
Targeting any fish on the surface is trumps, which is usually reserved for low light conditions and Jer’s popping action soon had patrolling fish hopping.The Nkupi or Emporer Chiclid is not a shy specimen and similar to kingfish will go out of it’s way to chase down the action

This lake is the proverbial lucky packet, you’re  never really sure what you’ve got tugging on your line until it comes into view. Not knowing what you’ve got rivals the expectation on a blind date…but it can also mirror the disappointment, as the chiclids will snack on flies half their body size

Fishing without trace wire, in system that houses the Goliath Tiger fish is a little like practicing unsafe sex……no matter how slim the chances are, it’s can all end in tears. As Jeremy found out, courtesy of the African Tiger fish that also inhabits this water

Once bitten………so, we strapped up and started to strip like our next meal depended on it. You expect to lose tigers due to their hard palette, not that it was any easier to swallow when the next 3 sorted us out. Being such an elusive fish in the depths of this fresh sea of water, I felt very lucky to eventually have one stick.

Over the next couple of days, we were torn between enjoying the frequent smaller Nkupi action in the shallow water versus trying to dredge for a big Perch. Storm clouds continually brewed and it blew in from every direction, making for difficult drifts. Despite the tumultuous weather, everyday enjoyed some sun and we managed to notch up a few fish, but we certainly worked for them.
The Last day of any fishing trip is as predictable as it is surprising. The shock of the last few fishing hours left is overcome by fierce resolution, bolstering your conviction that the big one awaits.

Jeremy was by this stage in the zone, slowly drawing his line up over the sandy substrate when the words I had been waiting to hear were tersely uttered….’Good Fish!’

There’s something about seeing a good fish landed that puts a little spark in your application and injects some venom into your cast.

Reigning in my impatience I was to follow suit, albeit in a smaller weight category.

Having such diverse fishing in a single lake is remarkable and in this fresh water sanctuary of Nkamba Bay and the Nsumbu National Park, you rarely see another single soul when exploring this beautiful wilderness area. It’s not for the feint hearted on fly but it’s an absolute jewel and a fishing resource that needs to be protected by all recreational anglers.

Situ Island Resort

With all the traveling we get to do in the course of filming the Inside Angling TV series, we visit a lot of lodges, hotels and resorts around Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Every now and then we come across a rare little gem, a place that is different and has something special going for it. Recently, we enjoyed a direct flight from Johannesburg to Pemba on Airlink and visited Situ Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago in Northern Mozambique, which we found it to be exactly one of these little gems.

Our first impression on arrival was of a hidden private place, set right on the beach. The sandstone outcrops in the water in front of and around the lodge provide for beautiful scenery, and the buildings blend in with the vegetation of the island.

We were welcomed into the main building, where we encountered a relaxed atmosphere and simple, yet comfortable furnishings. The floor is beach sand, so you take off your sandals and don’t use them again until you leave. The ultimate in barefoot luxury.

The bar is a ‘help yourself’ honesty version, where you pour your own drinks and write down what you’ve taken in a book. There is an iced water machine in the lounge, where you are able to help yourself to as much chilled water as you like, something that’s unusual in the tropics! There is a small staff compliment and the whole place has an intimate feel, very different to most commercial lodges.

Situ is run by Craig and Tessa Macdonald, a South African couple from East London, who are passionate about Situ Island and its surrounds. Craig skippered us on our fishing excursions, and kept us entertained with his quirky sense of humour, then got straight into the kitchen whenever we arrived back at the lodge and started putting together delicious meals. He is a chef of note and as passionate about good food as he is about the island. Tessa runs the diving, snorkeling, kayak paddling and other activities and is very involved with, and knowledgeable about the environment and creatures of Situ. One of the more remarkable things she does is hand feed the Moray Eels on the reef in front of the lodge on the low tide, where they come swarming out and surround her as she hands out tasty tit bits.

Everything about Situ is relaxing. The staff keep a low profile, but are never far away if you need them. Craig and Tessa were helpful and nothing was too much trouble for them, they were very happy for us to set the pace and customize our own schedule each day, their flexibility made it easy for us to relax and appreciate this piece of paradise.

Meals at Situ were nothing short of outstanding. They buy seafood fresh from the locals and we were served delicious fresh seafood daily, complimented by loads of fresh salads, homemade sauces, pickled fish and of course the most finger licking good Mozambican chicken. In fact the food alone is enough of a reason to visit Situ!

There are plenty of reefs in the area and one doesn’t need to travel very far to get to fishing spots. Species that we came across included Gt’s, Bluefin Kingfish, Bigeye Kingfish, Amberjack, Dogtooth Tuna, King Mackerel, Green Jobfish and Pickhandle Barracuda. There were also plenty of Yellowfin Tuna about and we saw Sailfish jumping, though we didn’t target those species. Broadbill Swordfish are also targeted at night near Situ, so the fishing potential is excellent.

What really excited me was the form of the reefs. There is incredible structure, with some huge steps, ledges and walls under the water. The potential for fishing amongst such structure is exceptional.

I have tucked Situ Island Resort into my personal portfolio of places I would love to get back to again soon.

Just hope it isn’t too long before I do.

Gkhui Gkhui and the Magic of the Karoo

It was mid-November and I was heading south to one of my favorite locations… As the last bit of concrete and steel from South Africa’s judicial capital disappeared in my rearview mirror and the horizon lit up with dancing illusions on the salt pans of the Great Karoo my mind drifted back to the places I’ve visited in the last 12 months. I was lucky enough to see some amazing and breathtakingly beautiful places but none quite like the Karoo.

There’s something about this semi-desert region of Southern Africa with its long narrow roads and vast plains of emptiness that I find alluring. It’s difficult to describe, probably because there isn’t much to describe, but the Karoo just feels right to me and every time I go back I get a familiar, coming home, feeling. This time the Karoo was going to be home for at least a week, as we got invited by Chris van der Post and his family to film an episode of the WildFly fishing series at their lodge on the banks of the Orange River. Gkhui Gkhui River Lodge is a brand new fly fishing and hunting lodge that was built early in 2017. The luxury accommodation is situated 20 minutes outside Hopetown, around some of the best Yellowfish waters I have come across.

 

When we first walked down the pathway towards the main entrance of the lodge my expectations were already exceeded and like the first couple bars of a catchy song I could tell the rest was going to be good. We were greeted by Chris and his friendly staff who were waiting to serve us lunch and the start of what was to be an unforgettable dining experience. No kidding, the food was unbelievable as Chris’s wife and sister-in-law cooked up traditional “boerekos” with a modern day twist, think Bobby Flay born on a farm somewhere in the Free State.

With stomachs filled we set out for an afternoon session on the river. As luck would have it we timed it perfectly, timing plays a big role on this particular stretch of the Orange River. With Vanderkloof Dam 45 minutes upstream, the river rises a considerable amount when they let out water at the dam wall for the purpose of generating electricity. Around mid-morning, the water rises and then starts to drop again late afternoon. Chris explained to us how the fishing really comes on when the water levels start to drop.

My game plan for this particular trip was to do a lot of sight fishing to Smallmouth and Largemouth Yellows and where possible present big dry flies to see if I could peak the interest of any golden resident. Unfortunately, due to dam upstream being low, coming out of a major drought the water color wasn’t its usual emerald green and slightly murky but clearing as the levels dropped. I stuck to the plan though and rigged up a dry- dropper rig to fish the waters around the lodge and the plan paid off. I even convinced a juvenile largie to eat the dropper nymph in the very first session.

Part of our mission was also to target some Largemouth yellows and the next day we did a few drifts, looking for some big largies. I started off with a solid take on large streamer I was stripping through some flooded weed, the fish didn’t stay on for long however and then it went quiet. Now I’ve done enough largie fishing to know that it’s just par for the course but when the wind picked up later in the afternoon bringing with it some dubious looking clouds we made a collective decision to focus on the smallmouth yellows, targeting them on dries. I would have to go back another time, hopefully with some better conditions to bag the elusive one.

So the next 3 days we spent searching for yellows who would rise to the surface to eat our dry fly presentations. Chris who knows this stretch of the Orange River like the back of his hand would move between upstream and downstream spots to accommodate the high water levels and ensure we fish the most productive waters at the right time. What followed was the best dry fly fishing I have experienced in quite some time. We would walk in pairs and spot fish in pocket water, one angler would line up the cast as the other kept eyes on the fish, a short cast with a slight plop of the fly would do the trick as we stood and watched every fish slowly rise to investigate. We had some refusals, some missed takes and also dropped one or two good fish but we also managed to land some good smallmouth and capture a few of the best dry fly eats I’ve seen on film.

On our final day the foul weather finally set in, we woke up to a miserable drizzle and wind that would later pick up to 20 knots. Now, what’s a fly fishing trip without bad weather…? I wasn’t too bothered though, we had some amazing fishing the day before and finished off the show with some good footage that we can string together for what in my opinion will be a great episode and something completely different. It was decided that we would stick around and fish a small branched off stream in front of the lodge which so happens to be fairly sheltered from windy conditions if they do occur. My good friend Richard put the camera down for a couple of hours and got behind the rod. We noticed some fish rising so I tied on a large beetle. Rich made a cast towards the rising fish making sure to plop the fly at the end of the cast. Sure thing the fish came up to see what the ruckus was and in the same breath sipped down the beetle like it was a dry martini. With high fives and hero shots out of the way I pulled out my little point and shoot camera and we took turns at filming and fishing for these eager yellows and ended the short session with 6 smallies on dry and some crazy takes on camera which I will be editing into a little behind the scenes vlog episode, so stay tuned.

On the whole, it was another adventure for the books and it just reaffirmed my stance that the Orange River is a world-class fly fishing destination, and Gkhui Gkhui lodge is the complete package for anglers looking to experience the best that the Orange River has to offer. With experienced fishing guides, luxury accommodation and excellent catering it’s worth booking your next fishing adventure with Gkhui Ghkui River Lodge.

A Worried Man

Guy Lobjoit is a worried man

One of the owners of Guma Lagoon Camp in the Okavango Delta Panhandle, Guy has spent most of his adult life introducing tourists and friends, to the many natural splendors of this watery wonderland.

The Okavango is not a place for the faint of heart. Dangerous animals large and small are constant companions. Medical help is uncertain and provisions difficult to obtain, transport and store in this hot remote African frontier.

But Guy and his wife Bev have built a life and family here, justifiably proud of the service they offer at Guma, passionate about what they do and their part in the conservation and awareness of this incredible World Heritage Site.

Guy is also a renowned and avid angler.

Over the past decade, with the assistance of Airlinks direct flights to Maun, we have visited the Okavango Delta many times to fish and enjoy the phenomenon of the annual Barbel Runs.

Like any natural event timing may vary, and some years are better than others, but we have experienced some of the most amazing catch and release angling anywhere in the world right here in this jewel of Africa.

The runs normally occur around October when the annual flood waters cascading from the highlands in Angola and wending their way through Namibia and into the otherwise arid north western reaches of Botswana start to recede off the flood plains, bringing with it an abundance of small baitfish on which the larger species feed.

But over the past 2 years things have changed dramatically. The schooling Barbel themselves are very much smaller than ever before and species like the beautiful Nembwe have completely disappeared from the system. Other Bream species and the Tiger fish we love to catch and release have seen a radical decline in numbers and a change in behavioral patterns.

What has caused this sudden change?

Well the answer is no-one knows.

Theories and rumors are plentiful, but really no more than speculation. Netting is often blamed, but this practice has been going on for decades and could certainly not have wiped out an entire species in this short period of time.

Water levels is another possibility, but these have fluctuated for eons without the apparent damage we are seeing now.

What needs to happen is an urgent scientific study on salinity, PH levels and testing of the water for contaminants poisonous to fish. Guy has been trying, with the voluntary help of other concerned parties, to institute this, but a project of this magnitude requires government intervention and assistance. Given that this area is a World Heritage Site one would assume international assistance would also be a possibility.

In the short time we were there our crews covered over 200 km of the panhandle searching for Barbel runs. Those we did find seemed to be juvenile fish acting on instinct rather than the normal feeding frenzy and in most instances the other species that normally accompany the runs were absent, barring one or two small Tigers in the general area.

The one exception occurred on our last morning when Guy and I found runs closer to Guma which had attracted a fair number of the vicious Tigers. Over a period of about 2 hours our poppers and stick baits were attacked again and again, with the normal low hook up rate on surface lures, but still a fairly impressive number of fish were landed and returned. On previous trips the average size of Tigerfish patrolling the runs and getting to the lures first would have been between 3 and 4 KG’s……..this time the largest fish landed was 2.7 KG with the average below 1 KG.

The Bream species were also very skittish compared to earlier experiences, but we didn’t put in as many hours hunting for them as we did the Tigers. Guy, however, is adamant their numbers have dwindled alarmingly as well.

Unlike the spectacular bird and animal life in the Okavango, which are a visual and constant reminder of the heritage and beauty of Africa, the fish that swim below the surface of the water are largely taken for granted or simply not considered at all. Yet without a viable underwater habitat the whole food chain might break down endangering one of the most exceptional tourism destinations on the planet, as well as the rare and endangered species that thrive there.

Guy is right to be worried, as should we all.

Tarpon Fever

My long held dream of catching a Tarpon on fly remains just that.

No excuses.

On a recent trip to the Kwanza River Lodge in Angola I had my chances and came up short.

Kwanza Lodge and River mouth

Actually I could come up with any number of excuses of course, but sometimes simply wanting something too badly adds fuel to the adrenaline coursing through your veins when the goal is in sight and things go all to hell.

Now when I say in sight, I mean literally swimming in front of you.

These magnificent fish grow to around 140 kg’s in this neck of the woods (or jungle) and the larger specimens move between the ocean and the river depending on tides and seasons.

Once Tommo had landed at 75 kg monster on live bait at sea and shown us pic’s of the behemoth, we realized we were well out of our depth with our puny 12 weight fly rigs and scuttled back to the relative safety of the river.

Tommo up close and personal with his giant Tarpon

Not to say there are not very large Tarpon roaming there as well, but the “juveniles” of up to 40 kg seemed a much more realistic option to target. Until Gareth caught his first one of about 10 kg’s and took around half an hour to land it.

When it comes to fly fishing, actually seeing the fish you are casting to is the holy grail of the sport. Tarpon are probably the largest fish on the planet that will happily gobble a seemingly insignificant small fly when hungry and will do so both under the water or on the surface.

 When on the move, the smaller Tarpon will swim in schools, often within meters of the beach and remain close to the surface, regularly “porpoising” and at these times will generally compete for any fly coming near them.

When attacking, these ancient predators will open their cavernous mouths and gulp a large amount of water, prey and all, in and over their gill plates, filtering any solid matter which remains as food.

This is where things got tricky for me. The accepted mantra of slow strip for Tarpon, which makes perfect sense considering how they eat, was easier said than done. General practice when seeing a fish coming for your fly is to speed up the strip, thus inducing a strike. Of course when the fish is busy inhaling your fly with a wide open mouth it doesn’t help one iota if you pull the bloody thing out.

The Silver King, as it is reverentially referred to the world over, has not survived since prehistoric times by being easy prey itself. For 6 full days we wielded heavy 12 weight outfits from a ski boat in a deadly dance with wind, waves, fatigue and sharp hooks- looking for our chances.

They came. But few and far between. Much of our time was spent casting blind into murky water, more in hope than with any specific plan. At times a huge silver splash nearby would reignite the belief and keep tired arms moving. At others, the mirror calm water helped not at all.

The times of madness came with low light, early morning and evening.

As the tide changed a scum and papyrus line would form in the river attracting marauding groups of juvenile “Poons”. Seemingly unperturbed by the motors, we were able to get close enough to put flies amongst them. The first fish Gareth hooked somersaulted 6 feet out of the water and spat his fly disdainfully back at him.

We continued to pay school fees.

Gareth got the hang of it and landed two nice fish, over the week. I, on the other hand suffered terribly from what in hunting terms is known as “bokkoors” an adrenaline induced malfunction of the brain, causing an inability to do what your mind is telling you to do.

Gareth with a manageable Tarpon on fly near the river mouth.

I’m seeing a shrink now and he thinks he’s getting on top of it. Yeah right, easy to say from your leather armchair, wait until that Silver King is coming at you….

I’m hooked!!

Fresh Water Ocean

The longest freshwater body of water in the world is Lake Tanganyika. It is also the second deepest (1.5km) and remarkably contains approximately 16% of the earths fresh water supply.

Holding over 350 different species of fish, it stands to reason that given the chance, any fisherman worth his salt would leap at the opportunity to explore this marine wonderland.

We did just that.

 

The vast expanse of the fresh water ocean, Lake Tanganyika

 

Luckily, and against considerable logistical odds, a lady called Sandra Valenza, an avid angler from Zambia, has over the past few years, obtained and revamped an iconic lodge in the Nsumbu National Park called Nkamba Bay.

 

Although the lake as a whole, bordered by the DRC, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia, has seen severe fishing pressure negatively affect fish stocks, Nkamba Bay itself lies in this area protected by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).

 

Flying on Proflight from Durban to Lusaka was a bonus for us, being based in KZN, and an overnight in Lusaka at the friendly PalmWood Lodge got us into the right frame of mind for a fishing trip. Tommo introduced me there to Nshima, Zambia’s staple maize porridge, and chicken curry-delicious.

 

 

Another 2 hour flight on Proflight to Kasama and a private charter to the lake saw us duly ensconced at the pub on the elevated deck of Nkamba Bay Lodge with a cold beer and a spectacular view over the crystal clear water where a pod of hippos frolicked happily.

 

 

Tommo and I were fishing conventional spinning tackle while Jerry and Gareth worked flies off the large comfortable ocean going ski-boats.

 

 

Given that there are 4 different species of Perch, Tiger Fish and a seemingly endless number of Cyclid species happy to chase a lure or fly, the opportunities are plentiful. The guys on fly were battling a bit with the wind drift making it difficult to get the flies down to anything more than around 10 meters. But even then, they were picking up plenty of the voracious smaller Cyclids and the odd juvenile Perch around the rocky shore line.

 

 

On spinners and lures, with light braid, we were more competitive and had racked up so many species on the first day we had lost count. Fish of every shape, size and colour attacked anything in their path. Interestingly, the largest Cyclid species on earth, called Nkupe, live in large numbers in Lake Tanganyika and when schooling near the surface will happily take a popper or stick bait. The sought after Peacock Bass found in the Amazon basin is also a member of the Cyclid clan, but comes second in size to the Nkupe.

 

We found the larger Perch holding in deeper water over 30 meters, but unfortunately all attempts to bring them to the surface without severe Barotrauma (expansion of the swim bladder) and thus probably killing the fish, were futile. So we stopped fishing at anything deeper than 25 meters.

 

The fly guys managed to snag a couple of small Tigers, but other than one decent smash on a copper spoon we had no joy on the toothy critters. We all managed a number of Perch, but nothing over around 8 kg’s. I found a large bright paddle tail soft plastic fished like a bucktail jig worked well for both the Cyclids and Perch.

 

When fishing Lake Tanganyika its often hard to remember you’re in fresh water, the sheer magnitude of the lake, its extreme depth and seemingly endless number of species is far more reminiscent of blue water ocean fishing. For light tackle spinning and popping enthusiasts it’s paradise, and as mentioned if you’d like to tick off the world’s biggest Cyclid, this is where it’s at.

 

 

Nkamba Bay Lodge is the only place to stay, due to being inside the National Park, good food and service, as well as comfortable air conditioned rooms. They also have a number of boats to choose from.

 

For something completely different try getting to this fresh water ocean and ticking off some unusual bucket list species.

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